Apr. 14, 2008
The Light Above Cities
Sitting in darkness,
I see how the light of the city
fills the clouds, rosewater light
poured into the sky
like the single body we are. It is the sum
of a million lives; a man drinking beer
beneath a light bulb, a dancer spinning
in a fluorescent room, a girl reading a book
beneath a lamp.
Yet there are others — astronomers,
thieves, lovers — whose work is only done
in darkness. Sometimes
I don't want to show these poems
to anyone, sometimes
I want to remain hidden, deep in the coals
with the one who pulls the stars
through a telescope's glass, the one who listens
for the click of the lock, the one
who kisses softly a woman's eyes.
It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language. He was a man who'd grown up in America at a time when Americans from different states could barely understand each other because they spoke with such different accents and even different languages. Americans in Vermont spoke French, New Yorkers spoke Dutch, and the settlers in Pennsylvania spoke German. All these different languages were influencing American English and there were few standards of spelling or meaning.
Noah Webster spent 20 years working on his dictionary, which contained 70,000 words, and he did all the research and the handwriting of the book by himself. He is believed to be the last lexicographer to complete a dictionary without an assistant.
Webster's dictionary had the result he intended. His standardized spelling and pronunciation guides helped ensure that Americans who speak English speak more or less the same English. The United States has the fewest dialects of any major country in history.
It was on this day, Good Friday, in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head while watching a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.
Lincoln had received word of Robert E. Lee's surrender and the end of the Civil War just a few days before he died. He spent his last week as president arguing with Congress about how to readmit the Southern states to the Union. He believed that there should be as little punishment for the rebels as possible.
He had a dream that week that he was on a boat moving rapidly toward shore. It was the same dream he'd had just before every positive development since the war started. He believed it was a sign that everything was coming out right. That afternoon, at 3:00, Lincoln took a ride in an open carriage with his wife, and he was the happiest she'd ever seen him. He told her, "I consider this day, the war, has come to a close."
It was on this day in 1894 that Thomas Edison's first kinetoscope appeared in a New York City arcade. The machine Edison designed could only be viewed by one person at a time through a little peephole, and the viewer would see a series of pictures flipped rapidly enough to create the illusion of movement.
Edison formed a movie studio and began to release movies of acrobats and weightlifters, boxing matches, and firemen fighting fires. And then in 1903, Edison's studio released The Great Train Robbery, which was such a big hit that storefronts all over the country were converted into movie theaters and the movie business took off.
Today is the anniversary of Black Sunday, the day in 1935 when a windstorm hit a part of the Great Plains known as the Dust Bowl. That area of farmland, which included parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, was considered some of the most fertile land in America at the turn of the 20th century. Farmers flocked to the area, and the wide use of mechanical tractors had plowed up millions of acres of land. When a drought hit the area in the 1930s, all that plowed-up earth turned to dust.
On this day in 1935, the weather was sunny and calm. People were on their way home from church, or out visiting friends for lunch, when they saw huge flocks of birds flying south, away from a dark black cloud on the northern horizon. As the cloud approached, people realized that it wasn't a storm cloud, but a cloud of dirt, blown up by the wind.
Witnesses said it was like a black tidal wave came down from the sky. It became as dark as night as soon as the cloud descended. Static electricity stalled cars and shorted out telephone lines. People standing a few yards away from their homes got lost in the darkness.
Coincidentally, it was four years later on this day in 1939 that John Steinbeck published his novel about the farmers displaced by the Dust Bowl drought: The Grapes of Wrath.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®